FEAR ITSELF …

“What’s the worst that can happen?”

This is the question we are continually asking ourselves, millions of times a day, in all of life’s endeavors. 

The human struggle itself is a series of cost/benefit analyses. Can this hurt me? Will it kill me? Will it hurt my family? What’s the possible damage? 

From getting in a car, to deciding what to eat for dinner; from choosing a mate, to choosing a place to live, we are always weighing the consequences of every decision we make. 

In the balance of those scales is actual life and death. 

And so we put safety measures in place for humanity, to make some decisions easier than others. We put warning labels on toxic products, to ensure that people won’t ingest them. 

We build seat belts into cars and airplanes. We put up gates and fences and build our homes as sturdy as possible. We wear helmets when we ride bicycles and skateboards. 

We go see doctors and get tests run. We go on diets and go to the gym, in hopes of squeezing out as many extra moments of life as possible. 

But why? 

Are we simply reacting to some ancient, primal directive to survive? Is it that simple? Or do we have, hard-wired into all of us, some sense that life is important? And maybe that buried knowledge only flashes above the surface when we’re in eminent danger? 

Or maybe it’s a combination of both. Either way, all living things are oriented toward not dying. 

If you’ve ever tried to swat a fly, you know they aren’t going down without a fight. They have the same instinct we have. Survive. 

But here’s the thing …

Even though the fly has an instinct toward survival, it doesn’t let the fear of your fly swatter keep it from being a fly. 

It does what it does. Because if the fly stops doing what it does, it will actually die from not being a fly. Its inner cost/benefit analysis tells it that stopping being a fly is worse than braving the fly swatter. 

As I sit in quarantine yet again, because someone in my family has supposedly been “exposed to Covid,” I think about the flies. I’ve had Covid, as has my daughter. My wife and son, however, have been as exposed to it as humans can get, and have yet to test positive or show a single symptom. 

A friend of mine is on his second round of having it. That’s the first time I’ve heard of that happening. He says the second round is tougher than the first. 

Weaving its way through all of the stories and anecdotes and questions and mandates and anger over masks or no masks; the CDC recommendations and the arguments over vaccine passports and social distancing and Covid this and variant that, is the prevailing pulse of fear.  

As humans, we’ve stopped doing what we do out of fear. Basically, we’ve stopped being flies for fear of the swatter. 

Fear is healthy. It keeps us out of dangerous situations. It keeps us alive…until it doesn’t. 

Another friend of mine recently told me about his uncle who had been gripped by the fear of Covid, so he literally didn’t leave his house for a year, until the vaccine was ready. 

He was one of the first in line to get it. Less than 24-hours after receiving the vaccine, he fell dead with a heart attack. 

So, while he was keeping himself safe as a human, he wasn’t being a human. He lost a year of his life…trying not to die. 

If there has been a winner in the Covid era, it has been fear. Fear has kept us at each other’s throats. Fear has kept us home. It has kept us apart. It has driven us to do illogical things. 

But of all the things fear has done to us, the most sinister thing it has done has been to cause us to stop being the best versions of what humans can actually be. 

There are some medications out there that seem to work in fighting this thing. But some medical professionals refused to try them. Why? Out of political fear.   

And when all of this is said and done, who knows how many lives may have been saved by treatments in the arsenal – treatments actually banned by certain powers that be, in certain places – that may have possibly worked for certain patients? 

We’re afraid to go anywhere without a mask. Why? Is there any real evidence that they’re keeping the virus from spreading? None. But we wear them. Because we’re afraid. Mainly we’re afraid of what will happen to us if we don’t. We will be shamed and possibly even physically harmed (I’ve seen some videos) by people who are…wait for it…afraid. 

We’re afraid talk or disagree or challenge or reframe. And we’re really afraid of being wrong. 

This isn’t what we do as humans. At our best, we walk boldly into problems and work them from every angle. At our worst, we cower and avoid and disengage and comply. 

Eventually, as a human, you have to work through your own death. You have to answer that first question of “what’s the worst that can happen,” with…die. 

Once you come to terms with death, life is sweeter, more precious and easier to live. Once you settle your own fear of dying, you can finally stop shuttering over every possible outcome. 

Because, yes – all roads lead to death. ALL of them. So now, live. 

When I was driving to the ER on Christmas night, unable to breathe, I kept repeating the words “I will fear no evil,” over and over in my head. 

I thought my daughter might be dead. I thought my own life was about to end. And suddenly those words made more sense to me than they ever had. I. Will. Fear. No. Evil. 

Only when you know who truly holds life, can you be at peace with death. Knowing that you did everything you possibly could to say what you came here to say and do what you came here to do, takes death’s power away. 

And that takes away the fear. 

Danger is everywhere but we cannot let that stop us from being us. 

There are more swatters out there than you could ever imagine.

But it’s time we start being flies again.     

R  

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6 thoughts on “FEAR ITSELF …

  1. My father did the same thing. He stayed home. If he did go out he did everything “right”. He was excited to get the shot. He didn’t feel well after the first but took the second anyway. He ended up in three different facilities in Critical Care Units for six weeks. He passed away last week. He and his wife didn’t “live” all last year. Now he’s gone. My heart is broken.

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  2. I spent a lot of my life trying to decide whether to kill myself or not, for various reasons. Now, when it comes to this COVID-19 crisis, I try and do what is wise to protect my family more than myself. I don’t really care. Sometimes I don’t wear a mask if I am around others who are not wearing masks. But at the age of 53, I have decided that I am pro-life. I believe that God is into more than anti-abortion activists. I believe that he favors life no matter what. That’s an unpopular view sometimes. So, your essay was on fear, unreasoning fear. I think we all find a reasonable alternative to extreme fear. But our reactions affect more than ourselves.

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  3. Food for thought. I have (and I would say of my family too) that we have tried hard not to “stop living” the past year. We can’t do everything we used to, because it simply isn’t an option (e.g. no concerts) but we do go on little trips and regular outings. And I’ve been teaching, mostly in person, and happy about it, despite the inevitable weirdness and instability of the situation. An opportunity to do SOME good is better than no opportunity.

    Long term, idk. I think I worry more on average about humans losing their minds than I do about them getting Covid-19. Though I don’t think Covid is a joke either, and appreciate that you wrote about how awful your experience of it was.

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